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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy
Key address at the 8th International Conference on 'Georgia's European Way'
8th International Conference on 'Georgia's European Way'
Batumi, Georgia, 22 July 2011
Mr President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to be here in Batumi with you today. Batumi is a fine symbol of the great Georgian hospitality that I enjoy so much and remember so fondly from this same conference two years ago.
I am also happy to be here to discuss openly Georgia’s European way and its aspirations, needs and practices.
Let me first briefly present to you the main results of the European Neighbourhood Policy review. This can be summed up in four ideas: deep democracy, mutual accountability, conditionality and differentiation, or the "more for more" approach.
Through this renewed approach, the EU agrees to provide greater support to partners engaged in building deep and sustainable democracy, to boost inclusive economic development and to strengthen both the Eastern and the Southern dimensions of the ENP, in particular in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This increased support will depend on the willingness of partners to engage and their progress towards reforms.
There is a specific dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy for the East - the Eastern Partnership that serves as the platform for engagement with Georgia and other neighbours in the Eastern parts of Europe.
How will this renewed approach be translated into the Eastern Partnership?
Within the limits of the time available, let me give you just four elements that I consider essential:
First, the Association Agreements: these are being negotiated with our Eastern partners and will remain the cornerstone of our relationship. However, in some cases, these far reaching and very complex agreements take a long time to negotiate. Under this renewed policy, we will need to identify tools that will allow us to bridge these long periods and intensify engagement with our partners.
Second, Civil Society and its role in pursuing the goals of the Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and its National Platforms are essential to promote the Eastern Partnership’s values, and we should strengthen their involvement. I am personally committed to additional support being provided to civil society in partner countries. For this purpose, we intend to establish a Civil Society Facility and a European Endowment for Democracy, in order to consolidate the role of civil society actors, including those which have not been able to benefit from EU support so far. I will also encourage the EU delegations in partner countries to launch a structured political dialogue with National Platforms.
Third, conflicts: comprehensive and concerted use of the whole toolbox that is now at the EU's disposal will allow us to contribute meaningfully to the resolution of protracted conflicts existing in Eastern Partnership countries.
Fourth, enhanced regional cooperation: it was actually President Saakashvili who had inspired us to seriously consider developping a forum for regular interaction between Eastern Partnership countries and the EU at the appropriate level and on a wide range of issues, creating a better connection between bilateral and multilateral tracks of the Eastern Partnership.
The greatest challenge now lies in the implementation of this ambitious renewed policy. We will look into how we jointly – and I underline the word "jointly" - implement it at the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw. And I will be looking forward to our fruitful discussion there to which this conference is a prelude.
Let me now turn to the specific case of Georgia, and its European way.
Georgia has made its choice for closer integration with the European Union. The relationship between Georgia and the EU is gradually developing into a close, strong and dynamic partnership based on clear common objectives. Good progress has been made on negotiations for the Association Agreement. We need to move forward towards free trade and more freedom of movement. None of this is easy and many technical difficulties need to be solved before the objectives can become reality.
But this European choice is above anything the choice of adherence to the universal values of democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law. In this respect, Georgia has already embarked on a solid path of reform and has made impressive progress since the Rose Revolution in 2003.
However, there is much still to be done.
Democracy in Georgia needs to be consolidated. There needs to be a clear system of checks and balances. There needs to be a more tolerant and pluralistic political culture.
What happened in May in Tbilisi during the protest rally must never happen again. I know an investigation into these events has been conducted but I believe further investigation into these events is needed to ensure that those responsible for excessive use of force and losses of human lives are held accountable for any eventual wrong doings.
Furthermore, democracy in Georgia needs to be more inclusive. Next year's parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential elections demand a level playing field to be truly successful. These elections will be important test cases for Georgian democracy. In the meantime, all the political forces and also civil society representatives should engage together on the reform of the electoral system.
The other fundamental foundation for democratic development is the independence of justice. Political influence over the judicial system cannot be tolerated anywhere and this is something the European Union monitors closely, and here also I believe there is room for improvement in Georgia.
Second, let me continue to what remains to be done at a socio-economic level.
Batumi is a great example of how Georgia is developing swiftly. However, I believe there is another Georgia beyond the splendid boulevards of Batumi. A Georgia that needs sustainable growth. A Georgia that needs to reduce social and regional inequalities. A Georgia that needs to create jobs for its workers and higher standards of living for its people. This is the European way. If Georgia seriously chooses to pursue this way, it needs to undergo very comprehensive and resolute reforms. But at the end of this journey, there will be sustainable, balanced and long term development for everyone.
The last element that I would like to emphasise here is conflict resolution. The European Union’s position on this is well known. We support the security, stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. We will continue to oppose border changes brought about through use of military force. We will continue to engage in conflict resolution through deploying the full range of our instruments (namely financial assistance, Geneva International discussions, the European Union Monitoring Mission and the soon-to-be-appointed new Special Representative). All these elements of support together provide for the security and stability of Georgia.
Georgia itself is engaging in the process. It plays a constructive role in the Geneva discussions. President Saakashvili made a non-use-of-force commitment in front of the European Parliament last November and we have all welcomed it.
However, in order to reach reconciliation, serious and genuine engagement with the communities of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is essential. The European Union and the international community can do their part, but it is mostly up to Georgia itself to find ways to build bridges. Isolation is no alternative. Georgia must show to these communities, now divided by conflict, that they are an integral part of Georgian society and will also benefit from closer political approximation and economic integration with the European Union. Let us do everything possible together so that people from both sides of the Administrative Border Line can again safely travel, trade and invest beyond that line. It is a way how to extend the benefits of European path to all communities, to all Georgians.
To conclude, let me confirm that I am a strong believer in Georgia’s European way, and in a democratic, prosperous and reunited Georgia. Sharing the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Offering its citizens all the benefits of modern European society. It might not be an easy choice for this country - Georgia needs to balance its geopolitical interests. It might not be the easiest possible way, but let me assure you that the European way is the real route to political and economic stability for this country.
We are determined to work towards these goals, and we hope that together, as genuine partners, we can achieve them.
I look forward to today's discussions being fruitful, and many thanks to all those involved in organising the event – particularly my friend Gia Baramidze. Thank you for your attention.